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NEWS | Oct. 19, 2021

Army National Guard tackles modernization challenges

By Army Lt. Col. Rob Perino, National Guard Bureau

WASHINGTON – The Army National Guard must continue to focus on modernization to remain competitive with adversaries and responsive to the needs of the communities it serves, senior Army Guard leaders said during a discussion panel at the annual Association of the U.S. Army conference in Washington Oct. 12.

"The Army National Guard will modernize as resourced by the Army," said Lt. Gen. Jon Jensen, director of the Army National Guard, while leading the panel focused on the Army Guard's role in meeting future operational challenges. "We will continue to harness transformational ideas to adapt and improve our organization."

With an eye on future missions and a concerted effort to identify resource requirements, the panel analyzed the following focus areas: the Army's Regionally Aligned Readiness and Modernization Model, digital culture, future workforce and balancing state and federal missions.

Army Chief of Staff Gen. James C. McConville addressed those in attendance, thanking Army Guard Soldiers for all they have done the past 18 months.

"It's like you've become the Swiss Army knife of every problem in the United States – and that's not all you're doing. You're still operating around the world," he said, adding that Army Guard members are not only deployed overseas but "really making a difference with our allies and partners" through the State Partnership Program. The SPP is a Department of Defense program that pairs National Guard elements with partner nations worldwide.

McConville also referenced the support the Guard provided earlier in the year.

"You were there when we needed you," he said of the Army Guard response in the lead-up to the presidential inauguration in January, when more than 25,000 Army and Air National Guard members were on duty in the nation's capital. "You came in a couple of days and made sure we had a safe transition of power, and in accordance with the Constitution."

Additionally, over the past year, Army Guard brigades participated in 24 joint exercises and six combat training center rotations – the most since 2005, Jensen noted.

"Our diverse mission portfolio provides us the ability to prioritize training and our missions to balance our future requirements with current and emerging operations," he said. "Part of my job as the director of the Army National Guard is to help provide balance and predictability for our Soldiers, their families, and employers."

Providing that predictability is part of the Army's ReARMM program to align modernization, training and mission requirements across all three Army components.

The ReARMM template takes into account that part-time Soldiers need more time to receive equipment and train, said Army Maj. Gen. Paul Rogers, the adjutant general of the Michigan National Guard, during the panel.

While roughly eight months are programmed for an active component unit to receive its new equipment in the modernization phase, a reserve component unit will be allocated approximately 12 months.

The timeline also includes 30 to 42 months of training, depending on unit needs, and an 18-month mission window, said Rogers. The mission window may include a deployment or a training exercise, such as a National Training Center rotation.

"That flexibility and additional time are critical for us to be successful," said Rogers. "There are risks – second-order effects to not following new equipment training and fielding schedules. The readiness of our formations depends on it."

Rogers said new equipment could be "cascaded" between components to ensure units have modernized equipment when they need it. Leaders in all components have been working closely with Army Materiel Command and the National Guard Bureau to ensure distribution of equipment, programming of training sites, and all associated training happens on schedule.

Jensen stressed that modernization is a priority mission.

"The Army National Guard will leverage existing capabilities and develop innovative solutions," said Jensen. "It is critical we remain interoperable throughout the modernization process."

Longer-term modernization efforts will transform the Army Guard to division-based, multidomain operations. That transformation is to be completed by 2028, on track with the Army's modernization requirements that will keep pace with technological advances and operate across a full spectrum of conflict.

"Proper planning, resourcing, and discipline will be the key to our success," said Rogers. "Every day matters, every minute matters. We are focused on moving the ball forward."

Modernization and readiness start with people, said Army Brig. Gen. R. Dale Lyles, adjutant general of the Indiana National Guard, stressing the Army Guard has to transition from recruiting and retention to "talent acquisition" and "talent management."

"What we need to do in the National Guard – right now – is capitalize on the gains we have made these past two years, said Lyles. "This high-tech environment, including high-tech infantrymen, demands us to look through a new lens."

That "new lens" may include refocusing recruiting and retention for the current generation, which Lyles said possesses the right skills to serve in a high-tech Army and an operational Army Guard.

"Those levers we used to pull for [enlistment] incentives are starting to atrophy," said Lyles. "I would like a holistic review of accessions standards. We've got to bring those standards online with this generation."

That doesn't mean lowering standards, he said, but engaging the current generation in ways that appeal to their desire to serve.

"I think our organization must maintain the high standards of academics and other standards that allow us to bring and assess talent that can operate unmanned aerial systems, autonomy weapons, and night vision goggles, things of that sort," Lyles said.

Army Col. Danial Lister, the chief information officer of the Idaho National Guard, emphasized the importance of developing the right technologies and people to stay competitive in the cyber domain – the newest and, perhaps, most rapidly changing combat domain.

"In the 20 years that I served in the signal community in the National Guard, I've experienced this influx of technology that dictates how we fight and dictates how we engage our enemies," said Lister. "It requires us to maintain a certain level of skills and abilities that enable us to fight in these environments."

Lister advocated for offering more competitive benefits to highly specialized professionals who work for major tech companies. He also suggested exchange programs with businesses and academia to leverage digital technologies between the government and civilian sectors.

It may also be time to embrace more flexibility by allowing some Soldiers to work remotely, said Lister.

Flexibility is essential for a force that responds to domestic emergencies while training and deploying for overseas missions.

Maj. Gen. Laura Yeager, commander of the California Army National Guard's 40th Infantry Division, said remaining adaptable has been key to how the California Army Guard has managed the challenges of balancing state missions with federal requirements.

"It has been an unprecedented year for us in California, and we are very experienced with state emergencies," said Yeager. "Trying to balance requirements is a day-to-day challenge for us."

Some of those challenges and flexibility came about during historic wildfires that swept the state.

The California National Guard needed helicopters to support wildfire response missions, but much of the California Army Guard's aviation assets – including maintainers – are currently deployed to the Middle East. That's where aviation units from other states filled in through the Emergency Management Assistance Compact.

"Sometimes you have to know when to cry uncle and ask for help," said Yeager, adding that the California Guard was fortunate to have units from nine states assist with aviation maintenance. "Without them, we really would have been in serious hurt."

Yeager said the California Guard spreads missions and tasks throughout the force, with an eye on maintaining balance and high morale for their troops. That has meant many state activations – such as wildfire response – have been manned by volunteers.

The California Army Guard has also taken on a variety of other state missions the past year.

"I still have folks working in 38 food banks around California who have done amazing work," said Yeager. "They've helped distribute almost 250 million meals over the last 500 days, but this is a function that volunteers formerly did, and the volunteers won't come back until the Soldiers leave."

Despite the busy year, Soldiers have accomplished all training and support mission requirements, said Yeager.

"Our Soldiers have worked hard, and they feel the gratitude from our citizens," she said. "We're blessed to have the qualities that we do. We're doing everything we can to take care of our people and show them how much we appreciate them."

But, there will be challenges ahead, said Jensen.

"We will work to provide balance and predictability ... prepare for a new digital culture ... ensure our force is manned, trained and equipped to prepare the future workforce and balance our state and federal missions to meet the needs of our nation," he said.

The Army National Guard has approximately 335,000 service members in more than 2,400 communities across the 50 states, three territories, and the District of Columbia.